“A rights-respecting federation can only be created through negotiation” – an interview on Balochistan

Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director, Human Rights Watch, was one of the few people who recently gave testimony to US Congress on the issue of Balochsitan province. I interviewed him for The News on Sunday.

Can you outline your testimony to the US Congress on Balochistan?

Ali Dayan Hasan: The hearing provided an opportunity to highlight the dire human rights situation in Balochistan and was used by HRW to that end. We take no position on the issue of self-determination and I clarified that Balochistan was an internationally recognised Pakistani province and not a territory over which there was any dispute over sovereignty. That said, HRW expects Pakistan’s constitutional protections for citizens to apply to those who live in the province. I explained that while the state – through the army, intelligence agencies and paramilitaries such as the FC – was the principal abusive actor, Balochistan presented a complex situation with multiple actors involved in human rights abuse.

While the state is responsible for illegal detentions, disappearances and targeted killings, it is also true that Baloch nationalists have targeted non-Baloch settlers and Sunni extremists are killing Shias in the province. HRW also called upon Congress to examine US complicity with former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in the disappearances of al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects, and how that enabled Musharraf to extend enforced disappearances to the menu of human rights abuses across Pakistan generally and in Balochistan in particular. I also explained that Balochistan was not a mono-ethnic province peopled only by the Baloch but that they comprised just over half the population and that any examination of the place of Baloch nationalism had to factor in the implications stemming from this reality.

Were you surprised at the outrage over the Congressional hearing in Pakistan? Do you think it was justified?

ADH: I made clear even before the hearing that HRW was only using the hearing as a platform to highlight the human rights situation in Balochistan and we viewed the politics surrounding the hearing in the US with discomfort. However, on balance, international groups such as HRW and Amnesty felt it important that an objective human rights analysis, based in international law rather than political rhetoric, be placed on the record. While I understand why Congressman Rohrabacher’s resolution asking for self-determination in Balochistan was negatively received in Pakistan, I have said before and I repeat that it is not within Rohrabacher’s or the US Congres’s capacity to create or dismember countries. Every sane minded person understands this both in the US and Pakistan. But these events have focused attention within Pakistan on the human rights crisis in Balochistan and that is a positive development. And now, knowing that it is on the international radar, it is incumbent upon Pakistan’s political and military leaders to end an untenable policy of denial and resolve this crisis speedily and meaningfully.

What has HRW research revealed about human rights abuses in Balochistan?

ADH: HRW research shows that that the return to civilian rule in 2008 has not resulted in civilian control of security policy in Balochistan.

Consider: in 2008, Interior Minister Rehman Malik admitted that 1100 people were missing. Today he claims that less than 50 are missing. This is simply false. Disappearances have continued. HRW has also recorded some 300 killings of Baloch nationalists in the last 18 months in ‘kill-and-dump’ operations. The federal government, which initially tried to effect a policy of reconciliation in the province and was willing to acknowledge large-scale disappearances, has failed in ending abuses by the FC and intelligence agencies. Instead of seeking broader support for peace in Balochistan and challenging the security apparatus, the federal government has sought refuge in pretence and denial, insisting that all is well even as the situation has steadily deteriorated.

The judiciary has repeatedly tried to address the issue of disappearances in Balochistan but it has also failed resistance from those perpetrating these abuses. Certainly, Baloch nationalist attacks on non-Baloch settlers are a complicating factor. Punjabi and Urdu-speakers are living in fear of their lives in Quetta today and there is a mass exodus of teachers, who belong to these linguistic groups, from the province creating a crisis of education that will haunt the province for years to come. Further, HRW has also documented the killings of some 300 Shias, mostly from the Hazara community since 2008. Militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have claimed responsibility for these attacks and many in Balochistan believe that these groups enjoy close relationships with the army and operate at its behest.

So how can this situation be improved or resolved?

ADH: The state has failed in its duty to enforce a rights-respecting rule of law and needs to urgently address that failure by confronting the security apparatus. Also, while we cannot rule out the possibility that third parties may also be fomenting unrest in Balochistan, this cannot be used as an excuse for state abuses to continue. A durable peace in the province requires the army, the FC and the intelligence agencies to be part of the process and to change their behaviour. This can only happen through sustained political pressure not just by the government but by all political parties who must act in concert to stop excesses by the security forces and simultaneously use confidence-building measures that bring Baloch nationalists to the negotiating table.

Given the urgency of the situation, it is particularly disappointing that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif has decided not to attend the APC on Balochistan. He should reconsider this decision as this is too serious a crisis to be hostage to party political considerations. Further, all political parties and the government should ensure that representatives of the military, the intelligence agencies and the FC are also brought to the table and public commitments are extracted from them about ending abuses and adhering to human rights protections in Balochistan. Unless killing and abuse stops, offers of amnesty to Baloch leaders will have no credibility. In a sense, the state has lost credibility with the Baloch and needs to prove through actions not empty rhetoric that it means to earn their trust once again. If mainstream political parties – in government and opposition – can guarantee that the security apparatus will not renege on political accords reached with Baloch nationalists, pressure on the latter to reach a viable, peaceful settlement will also increase exponentially. A rights-respecting federation can only be created through negotiation and not at gunpoint.

TNS: March, 4 2012

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